Biden Faces Anger over Gaza in Michigan Primary Contest

US President Joe Biden speaks alongside Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer as he campaigns

The US state of Michigan voted Tuesday in a presidential primary that was expected to be another ticker-tape parade for Republican Donald Trump — but could deliver Democratic leader Joe Biden a bloody nose over the war in Gaza.

Biden, 81, faces no serious opposition to being nominated by the Democratic Party for the November election, when he hopes to win a second term in a likely rematch against Trump.

But as the civilian death toll mounts in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Biden has seen support weaken among Muslims and Arab Americans, a bloc crucial to his narrow 2020 victory in Michigan over Trump.

The midwestern state has the largest proportion of residents who identify as being of Middle Eastern or North African descent in the country, with most of the population concentrated around Detroit.

Activists in the key battleground — where Biden’s winning margin four years ago was 150,000 votes — want Democrats to vote “uncommitted” to pressure the president to back off from his Israel support and call for an immediate ceasefire.

“I was proud today to walk in and pull a Democratic ballot and vote ‘uncommitted,'” said Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American in Congress.

“When 74 percent of Democrats in Michigan support a ceasefire, yet President Biden is not hearing us, this is the way we can use our democracy to say, ‘Listen — listen to Michigan.'”

The “Listen to Michigan” movement hopes to rally 10,000 uncommitted voters to its cause. In the last three election cycles, around 20,000 voters have ticked “uncommitted” in the state’s Democratic primary.

That won’t stop Biden’s easy march to the nomination, as his sole challenger, Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips, polls in single digits.

But a significant number of protest votes could set off alarm bells ahead of the November general election, when Biden cannot afford to see his coalition eroded in the swing state.

The war started when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

But concern has mounted amid the high civilian death toll in Israel’s retaliatory campaign, now at almost 30,000, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

‘Human empathy’

A similar write-in campaign calling for a ceasefire during the New Hampshire primary went nowhere, but Michigan has a significantly larger Muslim and Arab population.

Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of Dearborn, a heavily Arab American suburb of Detroit, said Tuesday’s vote was about “holding President Biden accountable.”

And Fatima Elzaghir, a 27-year-old nurse told AFP she wanted her “uncommitted vote” to force Biden to change.

“I think it’s evident that appealing to human empathy does not sway most politicians so maybe wanting to win Michigan will pressure him to ceasefire,” she said.

On the Republican side, Trump has swept the early voting states and Michigan is not expected to interrupt his march to the nomination.

His sole remaining challenger, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, lost her home state of South Carolina to Trump at the weekend but has refused to quit, saying she doesn’t believe the former president can defeat Biden.

“What I will tell you is I have long said I have serious concerns about Donald Trump. I have even more concerns about Joe Biden,” she told CNN.

“But I don’t think either one should be president, and that’s why I’m running.”

Haley suffered another blow Sunday when the wealthy Koch family network said it was halting its donations to her campaign.

Both parties hold votes on Tuesday, although Republicans have adopted a complex hybrid system that wraps up the contest four days later via caucus-style gatherings in each of the state’s 13 congressional districts.

More than two-thirds of Michigan’s Republican delegates — the individuals appointed to back candidates at the party’s summer nominating convention — will be awarded on March 2.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.